Students take action on a threat if they feel connected

Students who feel connected to their peers and teachers are more likely to alert a teacher or principal that a fellow student has dangerous intentions, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association.

But students who don’t feel connected are more likely to adopt “a code of silence,” according to a recent article in the Journal of Educational Psychology.

Researchers from The Pennsylvania State University and Missouri State University presented a hypothetical scenario of a peer’s plan “to do something dangerous” to 1,740 middle and high school students from 13 schools. The students were asked if they would (1) intervene directly, (2) tell a teacher or principal, (3) talk it over with a friend but not tell an adult, or (4) do nothing.

Students who generally felt a sense of pride and belonging in their school, had a concern for others and felt that they could voice their opinions and be heard by a school official, were more likely to say they would act rather than ignore the situation.

Most students who said they would take action favored approaching the peer rather than telling an adult. “This may be a reflection of where many of these students are developmentally. They want to assert their autonomy, make decisions and handle the situation on their own,” said the authors.

High school students (964) were less likely than middle school students (776) to talk directly to the peer planning to do something dangerous or tell a teacher or principal, write the researchers. They speculate that this may be because high schools are generally larger than middle schools and provide less opportunity for community-building among teachers and students.

Fear of getting into trouble makes more likely to ignore the situation, said the authors. Certain school policies, such as zero tolerance, may create an atmosphere that prevents students from confiding in a teacher or school administrator, the authors warn.

“Blanket policies that are often not clearly explained to teachers or students can create an atmosphere in which rules get in the way of relationships between students and teachers, to the detriment of keeping the schools safe,” said the authors.

Code of Silence: Students’ Perceptions of School Climate and Willingness to Intervene in a Peer’s Dangerous Plan, Amy K. Syvertsen and Constance Flanagan, Michael  Stout, Journal of Educational Psychology, 2009, Volume 101, Number 1, pps. 219-232. 



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